Hans Peter Reutter

Renaissance Counterpoint as a Study of Melody or 'The Anti-Gradus'

In most German music universities one can find ‘Renaissance Vocal counterpoint’ in the curriculum. Sometimes ‘Counterpoint’ forms a discipline of its own next to ‘Harmony’ and other theoretical subjects. This poses a problem for many students, because this subject deals with music outside their core repertoire, music that remains alien to some extent despite regular classes. Some teachers are not comfortable with this topic because of the pedagogical dominance of Fuxian counterpoint. Although generations of composers successfully have climbed this contrapuntal Parnassus, the question remains about how students might also best benefit from this journey.
In this paper, I will examine which skills should be acquired with the means of vocal counterpoint in compulsory music theory. Next to the obvious aim of learning the most important strategies for interval treatment (which naturally have consequences in tonal music), and the formation of a stylistic sensibility in a clearly defined area, I argue that counterpoint is able to fill a painful gap in music theory to some extent. While there are studies of harmony, form and analysis, a study of melody has not been priorly established in the curriculum which is important because the formation of structures, emotional comprehension and the composition of melodies is of central concern for many students. Developed from the teaching tradition by Christoph Hohlfeld (mostly handed down orally, Hamburg 1970s - 80s), this paper examines the way in which this method of counterpoint (rules, analysis, form)  - an elaboration of mostly Gregorian models - can be learned implicitly through creative exercises in the design of melody and setting (e.g. fugal imitation). Finally, I will examine the possibility of knowledge transfer, afforded by this method, to other styles.